Charleston, South Carolina is known for its fragrant magnolia trees, magnificent antebellum architecture and gracious manners.
While the mere flick of a lady’s fan could at one time speak volumes, this is a town that has never given up its secrets easily. It’s an enclave of old money and even older family trees. You can live here for 40 years or more and you’ll still be considered ‘from off’.
With that in mind, and with just one free day to explore, I asked local tour guide Myron Pstrak to share his suggestions for interesting things to do around town. It was hot and humid as we set off on a horse and carriage tour of the city, but as Myron told me — even in the middle of a blistering Southern summer, Charlestonians don’t sweat. They glisten.
Here’s an insider’s guide to the top things to do in Charleston SC.
When is the best time to visit Charleston?
Spring is glorious. The gardens are of course superb at that time of year. There are house and garden tours daily throughout the city. It’s a unique opportunity to look inside some of these magnificently restored masterpieces. You’ll gain a real insight into what it means to be a Charlestonian.
What’s the most interesting part of Charleston?
The warren of narrow streets and hidden squares inside the original city walls is really intriguing. The area has a very European feel with wonderfully restored antebellum homes (those built pre-Civil War) and unexpected gardens behind high stone walls and wrought irons gates.
Charleston is an amazingly intact historic city. It was a place of great wealth leading up to the Civil War, but the abject poverty that followed saw us simply get by as best we could. In the early 1920’s fortunes began to change and we realised what an amazing gem we had. That’s when the earliest city preservation efforts began. You can see the results all around you today.
Is there a secret spot you particularly like, that a tourist would be unlikely to find?
Magnolia Cemetery is breathtaking. Take a peaceful stroll amongst Charleston’s finest — from Confederate generals to artists and poets. The cemetery opened in 1850 and is full of history. It’s a must see.
Listen to a podcast of our tips for top things to do in Charleston SC:
What’s your favourite place to eat and why?
I’m a huge fan of Chef Marc Collins and his staff at Circa 1886. We eat there often because it offers a combination of exceptional lowcountry-inspired dishes that are reasonably priced for a fine dining experience. The setting in the original carriage house of Wentworth Mansion is lovely and understated.
What’s your favourite bar and why?
McCrady’s Tavern on Unity Alley — just off East Bay Street — is fabulous. They serve innovative cocktails in a wonderfully historic setting. Edward McCrady opened a tavern here back in 1778. It’s still a testament to true southern hospitality.
What’s something visitors should know about Charlestonians?
We are ridiculously polite and genuinely helpful, but please don’t ignore our southern conventions. Be polite in return and ALWAYS dress for dinner. We look askance at folks who presume shorts, t-shirts and flip flops are appropriate for dining out. Horrors! Gentlemen, take a stroll down King Street and pick up a Seersucker suit or jacket, the epitome of Charlestonian male style.
Do you have any tips for top things to do in Charleston SC? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Australia, Europe, Asia, North America, parts of South America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the Tour the World travel TV series on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.